Sam Martin  -  How can a greater focus on key profit drivers be facilitated by automation and innovation in grass based systems

Elizabeth Creak Charitable Trust

I have been born and bred in Hampshire and I am happy that our farm in the South Down National Park is home to my wife Anna and I and our 2 sons, Henry and Angus. I am also lucky to have a kiwi mother so have been very lucky to spend a lot of time in New Zealand and I hope this has given me an outward view on life.

After my degree at Harper Adams in 2003 I went pig farming before joining the family business in 2009 as a herd manager for my father on a tenanted farm, with an autumn calving, cross bred herd. In 2016 we merged this herd and my fathers spring calving herd to allow my father to take his pension and Anna and I are now farming 380 cross bred cows, with the youngstock on farm too.

I enjoyed my rugby right through school and university and I now love watching Henry and Angus as they come through the ranks of tag and mini rugby. Anna and the boys are also trying to teach me to dingy sail, which we love doing in the summer despite my lack of skill in a boat and we also love to go down to Cornwall with all our dogs in our Land Rover and roof tent every summer.

I am really looking forward to getting off farm and indulging my curiosity through my travels, and I am so very grateful to the Nuffield Farming Trust and the Elizabeth Creak Charitable Trust for sponsoring me and breathing new life into my career.

At Wallops Wood we have identified our own key profit drivers but we still find we are struggling to focus enough time on them because routine chores draw so much time out of the day. I want to investigate how many of those jobs can be automated and how much management time that can free up, and visit other farms that have done this to see how the performance has been affected. I also believe that to attract the best staff, and critically to retain them as well, I need to offer a working environment that stimulates and inspires, where skilled managers can put their knowledge to effective work without being demotivated and exhausted by repetitive and unrewarding tasks. I also want to investigate how modern software, animal diagnostics and decision support mechanisms can improve our management of both crops and livestock and help us cost effectively increase output.

I believe that progressive dairy farming is about controlling the costs of production and automation could be an important, and underutilised, tool to aid the process. By enabling ourselves to focus on our key profit drivers we should be able to minimise many of our major costs. Automation can also standardise repetitive jobs, for example post milking teat disinfection, which means the individual cow gets the same treatment at every milking irrespective of the operator on duty that day, guaranteeing at least a minimum quality of care and thereby improving welfare and consequently productivity.

Additionally, our biggest threat is arguably a labour and skills shortage, which is only going to be exacerbated by Brexit, so by offering an inspiring and technologically enhanced working environment and by not overworking people, farms will be better placed to compete for the best staff, and critically may also start to attract staff and managers from outside our industry.